CITY firms may be encouraged to give beggars a job to get them off the streets.
The initiative has been backed by Essential Edinburgh, just weeks after it called for beggars to be banned from the city centre.
It comes after the success of schemes run by supermarket giant Morrisons and Edinburgh based sandwich shop, Social Bite.
It is claimed that if enough firms backed the scheme virtually every beggar in the city could find a job.
Socially-conscious sandwich shop owner, Josh Littlejohn, who employs former Big Issue sellers and donates his profits to charity, has now joined forces with Essential Edinburgh chief executive Andy Neal to draw up a blueprint which could see the Capital become a world leader in tackling homelessness.
The plan has won cautious support from homelessness charities working in the city.
Mr Littlejohn, who runs Social Bite in Rose Street, called on businesses to employ beggars rather than “brush them under the carpet” after calls were made for the ban.
Under the new plans, firms inside the city centre Business Improvement District would be encouraged to give a homeless person the chance to secure a job.
Mr Littlejohn said: “Obviously Essential Edinburgh are up for re-election, so much is dependent on that.
“Should they be successful, Andy has agreed to employ a homeless person on the Essential Edinburgh street team. However, given that Essential Edinburgh has about 600 businesses on its books, we felt that there was potentially more we could do.”
It is estimated that around 30 beggars currently ply their trade in the city centre.
Mr Neal said talks were ongoing, but any plans would be dependent on Essential Edinburgh’s mandate being renewed.
He said: “These talks are in the very early stages and We have to wait to see what happens next month. However, Contingent on us getting a ‘yes’ vote we would be very keen to work with Josh. I would hope finding 30 willing and suitable companies would not be beyond the realms of possibility.”
Claire Gibson, chief executive of Streetwork, said the charity would “fully support” the proposed plan.
She said: “Any project of this kind absolutely has our vote. However, there are other issues factoring into homelessness other than employment and we would hope that we could all work together to address these in a meaningful way.”
Edinburgh Cyrenians urged caution, however, with a spokesperson saying: “The solution to rough sleeping is invariably more complex than just getting a job. We would encourage Essential Edinburgh and local businesses to work alongside city council and local charities who already have existing services.”
One union leader urged firms taking on staff to remember unemployment was not just an issue for the homeless. Lawrence Wason, divisional officer at union USDAW, who represented the 1700 axed Halls of Broxburn workers, said: “I can certainly see the advantage in trying to help the homeless but There are currently too many unemployed people and not enough jobs, so to give priority to one group over anothercould bring its own problems.
“We would be looking to see the council and the Scottish Government working together to provide better opportunities for all.”
MORRISONS LEADS THE WAY
SUPERMARKET chain Morrisons set the standard for employing homeless people in 2010 when it pledged to train 1000 potential new employees through its apprenticeship scheme in partnership with charities including the Salvation Army.
Norman Pickavance, group HR director for Morrisons, said at the time: “This initiative will help disadvantaged people to get their lives back on track. We look forward to taking this approach nationally and we would encourage other British businesses to join us.”
A spokesperson for the supermarket today confirmed that the company had “achieved that goal”.
‘I’m so grateful to the team’
Peter Hart was the first Big Issue seller to be taken on by Social Bite.
When the shop first opened last summer, the 22-year-old could be found selling the magazine from his pitch outside. When staff started giving him free sandwiches at the end of the day, he offered to do odd jobs in return. When a kitchen porter job came up, he was asked to officially join the team.
Peter, who has now moved up to food preparation, has since been joined at Social Bite by three other former Big Issue sellers, including his older brother, Joe, 24, who has taken his place as kitchen porter. The two brothers are now looking for their own flat together.
Peter said: “The best way to get me off the street was to give me a job. It’s made such a massive difference to every aspect of my life. I’m a much happier and more confident person now. I can’t stress enough how grateful I am to Josh and to Alice Thompson, the manager of the shop, because I wouldn’t be here without them.
“The world really would be a better place if there were more people like them – no-one ever gave me a chance before they came along.”
Mr Littlejohn was also full of praise for his star employee. He said: “Peter is one of our most reliable team members, he’s first to arrive in the morning and last to leave at night.”